A little over a year and a half ago I decided to leave corporate America to start a full-service independent marketing organization (IMO), CG Financial Group, LLC. This was a great process for me, not only because it allowed me to create a business that is already successful, but also because it allowed me to go through the process that I am now educating financial professionals on. That process is creating a “21st Century Agency.” I think you would agree that a 21st Century Agency is one that leverages consumer behaviors, social media, video, websites, search engines, etc.
Given that there are many parallels between what I have done (and am doing) and what a large chunk of the Broker World readership has done and/or is doing, I thought I would touch on the high level process that I went through and what I coach insurance agencies on. Whether one is brand new to our industry or a veteran looking to optimize his/her practice, the below may be useful from a practice management and marketing standpoint.
Following is a very high level version of our “Six-Step Roadmap” that we use to help new agents as well as seasoned veterans build out their business in an age where brands matter, expertise matters, and a web presence matters.
1.Create a name for your company. As you create your name, think about what it will be that will attract people to your company. For instance, when I started my company, I surveyed a lot of friends in the industry about what they think would attract people to my company. Many of them said, “You and your expertise and your ability to explain complicated topics in a simple manner.” So, I took their word for it and created the name “CG Financial Group, LLC.” CG of course being my initials. I also included the motto of “Simplifying Financial Security.”
Once you think of a name for your company or a “Doing Business As” (DBA), make sure you check the secretary of state’s website in your state to make sure it is not taken.
Most important of all of this, create a name that speaks to the value you will bring in the eyes of your prospects!
2. LLC and/or EIN. Whether or not to file for an LLC, S-Corp, etc., or get an employer identification number, is beyond the scope of this article, but if you go this route speak with an attorney or look online for companies like “Legal Zoom.” If you go the website route, make sure you are very much on top of all the business rules so you do it correctly!
3. Create a logo. I have studied human behavior, the brain, and behavioral finance a lot and I believe that every business should have a logo. They say that when you communicate with people, that 55 percent is body language, 38 percent is the tone of voice, and only seven percent is the actual words. In other words, the 55 percent that is body language tells me that people are visual! I know, it’s not breaking news that people are visual. A logo appeals to consumers’ visual tendencies and works like a tattoo in the brain. That “tattoo” can be a positive one if their experience with your company was good, or a negative one if the experience was bad.
My tips on the logo are: a) There are great logo apps online, just google “creating a logo” and you will see many; b) Make sure the logo is unique; c) Make sure it speaks to what you do; and, d) I do not believe a logo has to be fully descriptive. A logo can also generate questions like, “What does your logo mean?” That gives you an opportunity to explain what you do!
4. Create a Facebook Business page. This allows folks to “follow” my page and get my business’ content that appears in their feed whenever I post it to my Facebook page. I call it “passive aggressive marketing.”
Example: Let’s say that I just built out my Facebook Business page with a bunch of great articles and visuals. Maybe I included some facts about life insurance, annuity rates, the life insurance need, as well as a life quote engine, etc.
Well, just starting a “page” does not get followers. This is when I go to my “Personal” Facebook page and share with my 1,000 “Friends” that I have a Facebook Business page and that they should “Like” my business page in order to see ongoing updates and subject matter expertise. Once they “Like” my page, again, they will now see my ongoing material in their feeds. That is what I call “Passive Aggressive Marketing” and eventually, if your material is good enough, you will have family and friends inquire about various topics you have posted to your Facebook Business page. This cost you $0!
Furthermore, with Facebook Business I have the ability to target consumers in certain areas that have certain interests as well as certain “life events.” This costs money but can be very cost effective if done correctly.
Note: Instagram and LinkedIn are also great social media outlets one should utilize!
5. Website. I believe that having a website today is equivalent to what having basic prospecting conversations were 20 years ago. Conversations take place online in the 21st Century, whether you are technically “conversing” or not. Your website allows you to have “conversations” with prospects as you sleep. Work with an IMO that will provide you with material for a powerful website and maybe one that will help you build your website!
Furthermore, now that you have set up your Facebook Business page, you are able to direct those Facebook followers to your website. But again, your website has to have compelling information and subject matter expertise so you are not wasting the prospects’ time. Generating this material is where you can leverage your IMO. In the end, the goal is to have your social media pages feeding your website and vice versa. The goal is to create a never-ending lead producing cycle.
A few key components a website should have:
- Messaging about why you are different. Why should they choose you versus your competition?
- Subject Matter Expertise! I believe that because of the internet, today’s consumer is better informed than an agent was in 1990. Therefore, you better be educating them on something they cannot get by researching your competitor’s website. Leverage your IMO for this material.
- Your site should have more of a discussion about the issues and potential solutions versus “products.”
- Your site should have a Blog! Blogs are posts/updates/commentary that are posted to your website and automatically emailed to those that have subscribed. A blog is especially important because it allows you to speak in a more casual tone than the verbiage on the main page of your website. This allows the prospects to better connect with you, the human being behind the business. It also allows you to show them that you know your stuff and are much more than somebody wanting to sell them something. If your material is good enough, the people visiting your site and reading your blog will share with others and you will have many “subscribers” that will now get your blog posts once you hit “publish.”
Most importantly, blogs help with “Search Engine Optimization” that I discuss in a moment. For instance, if you write a blog about long term care solutions and that blog mentions “long term care” six times, that will help your website appear closer to the top when a prospect in your area googles “Long Term Care Insurance.”
6. Search Engine Optimization: When I started CG Financial Group, I followed these six steps. Of course, that means I almost immediately created CGFinancialGroupLLC.com, the website. I also “optimized” it for search engines.
One of the items at the time that I put on my website was a reference to a sales tool that I had that independent agents could utilize as they sold indexed annuities and indexed life insurance. The sales tool was provided by a third party. This third party and I had an agreement that I could market this tool to the CG Financial Group agents.
Fast forward about six months and, all of a sudden, I started getting phone calls from agents that I had never spoken to in my life. These agents were asking me how to pay for their subscription for the tool, how to make adjustments on the account, some of them how to cancel their accounts, etc. They believed that I was the entity that was actually behind this particular sales tool! I was merely an IMO that distributed their product.
Well, after about the fifth call I started to ask questions about how they got my information and why they believed that I was the same entity. What was their response? They all said that when they “googled” the name of the sales tool, my website was at the very top and therefore they assumed that I was the same company as the sales tool provider. If that is not a testament to the importance of “search engine optimization” I don’t know what is!
Clearly, there are many more steps to creating an agency for the 21st Century than these, but one needs to walk before he can run and I believe the above are table stakes in order to have a “21st Century Agency.”